In the last year and a half the cooperation between the government and the Fidesz-Christian Democratic members of parliament was unshakable. Here and there one could hear about some differences of opinion between the two parliamentary delegations on the certain issues, but in the end the disagreements were always smoothed over. Now we are facing a different situation. Cracks are appearing within Fidesz itself over the controversial bill on public education.
I have written so many times about Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education, and her outlandish ideas that it is not necessary to go into the details here. Most people whose opinion I respect think that the bill in its present form is unacceptable. But an entirely new aspect of the current “uprising” against this bill is that the critics don’t come only from the opposition. Fidesz members of parliament also have grave reservations about it.
Another twist in the controversy is that although earlier we heard about clash after clash between Viktor Orbán and Rózsa Hoffmann over her work on the preparation of the bill, the situation has completely changed of late. It is now Viktor Orbán who stands solidly behind Hoffmann against two rebellious Fidesz members, Zoltán Pokorni and László Posán. Both are considered to be experts on education and both taught: Pokorni as a high school teacher and Posán as an associate professor at the University of Debrecen. Both men have violent objections to Rózsa Hoffmann’s law on education.
Pokorni majored in history and Hungarian language and literature at the University of Budapest and began teaching high school in 1987. He became involved in politics at the very beginning of his career and was a Fidesz participant in the Round Table Discussions that preceded the regime change. In 1988 he took part in the establishment of the Association of Young Teachers and later was the founder of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers, an organization still in existence.
He was minister of education in the first Orbán government (1998-2001) and, according to some people, was among the best in that post in the past twenty years. Pokorni was always considered to be a more moderate member of his party. In the American diplomatic papers released by WikiLeaks his name often appears as a possible successor after the voluntary or involuntary retirement of Viktor Orbán.
Perhaps because of his disagreements with Viktor Orbán Pokorni more or less retired from the national scene and in 2006 became mayor of District XII of Budapest. In 2010 most people were certain that Pokorni would once again be named minister of education because he was such an obvious choice for the job. However, Viktor Orbán gave the position to the Christian Democrats’ candidate for the job, Rózsa Hoffmann.
Pokorni has not hidden his feelings about Hoffmann’s activities. We have known for at least a year that Pokorni is not at all happy with her educational ideas. The first Pokorni criticism of Rózsa Hoffmann’s politics that I found dates to November 2010. Pokorni gave a talk at a conference in which he expressed his hope that Hoffmann “doesn’t want to destroy Hungarian education” just to undo the educational reforms that Pokorni approved of. Pokorni also said that “it is an illusion to think that the education of the 1970s was working well” and that therefore the Hungarian government must return to those practices.
The criticism became louder and louder. Practically not a week went by without a battle between Hoffmann and Pokorni. Now that the bill is at last before parliament, the criticism has come to a point where the survival of the bill in its present form is very much in question. I should mention here that Pokorni is the chairman of the parliamentary committee on education. So, the bill landed there first. László Posán, another critic of Hoffmann’s bill, is the vice-chairman of the same committee.
Because of Pokorni’s prominence both in Fidesz and in government I am more familiar with his political career and ideas than those of László Posán. However, I heard an interview with Posán a few months ago and was struck by how sensible he was.
Upon looking into his professional past I found that Posán also majored in history and Hungarian language and literature in Debrecen. He remained at the university to continue his studies and in 2000 received his Ph.D. He subsequently became a member of the faculty.
These two men most likely decided some time ago that Rózsa Hoffmann’s bill is unacceptable. It would set Hungarian education back decades. They also decided that the fallout from the bill would mean political suicide for Fidesz. Both teachers and parents are potential Fidesz voters and the bill is designed in such a way that it would alienate both of these groups. The first negative effect of the bill would become obvious by the end of 2013 and the early months of 2014. Just around the time of the next elections.
The committee on education led by these two men almost refused to pass the bill on for discussion by the full House. (In Hungarian they call this “parlamenti vitára nem találták alkalmasnak.”) Posán thought that the bill was so bad that it should never reach the floor in its present form. Pokorni was of the same opinion but “because of his personal loyalty” to Viktor Orbán he voted for discussion of the matter in the House. However, he added that he is planning to offer between 70 and 80 amendments that might make the current bill unrecognizable and naturally in his opinion better.
Viktor Orbán hit the ceiling. He took it as an attack on himself, on his policies, and on his government that Pokorni and Posán so openly oppose a bill presented by a member of his government. Hoffmann announced that anyone who opposes her bill “is voting for the return of the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments” and practically accused Pokorni and Posán of anti-government activities. Pokorni in turn announced that Hoffmann shouldn’t be threatening members of parliament and compared her unfavorably to Kádár’s communists.
Viktor Orbán used rather strong words in describing this minor palace revolt. He said that “those who spit on the floor” can’t expect cooperation from him.
If only two people held views that challenged the government and if these views were confined to the education bill, it might not make all that much difference. But rumor has it that there are a number of Fidesz members who are unhappy with the way things are going. The economic situation is very grave and according to practically every analyst Hungary will be forced to go back to the IMF to ask for a line of credit. Although Viktor Orbán proudly announced in London that his government reduced Hungary’s sovereign debt by 9%, according to the latest reckoning the debt is back where it was at the time of the election: it is 82% of the GDP. The forint is still very weak, and it is likely that the Hungarian National Bank will be forced to raise interest rates 2-3%. No wonder that signs of disunity have appeared within Fidesz ranks.
Surely Viktor Orbán is afraid of losing the Christian Democratic votes and with them the two-thirds majority. So, he decided to support Rózsa Hoffmann. This compromise might be more expensive than Viktor Orbán thinks at the moment.